A challenge awaits during the London Games, and it has nothing to do with any race, PB or battle for gold. It’s a social challenge, a fight that will see officials attempt to control the near impossible, the unwinnable war against Facebook and Twitter.

Careful, Mr Olympian. Think really hard before you hit SEND

London has been dubbed the “First Social Olympics”. During the Beijing Games, there were 100 million people on Facebook. Today there are close to a billion. Twitter back then was barely two years old, with two million tweeters, now it has over 140 million. Many of these users are going to want to post pictures, tweet updates and document their experience of the Olympics using social media, whether they’re an athlete, official or a fan.

These days everyone with a smart phone is a photographer, cameraman and potential reporter and Games officials fear they are going to struggle to keep control of their product. There are massive multi-million dollar sponsorships and broadcast rights deals at stake and the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG) says the tough new guidelines for fans, officials and athletes are imperative to their security, viability and exclusivity.

Spectators at the Games will have to fall into line with LOCOG’s somewhat draconian ticketing guidelines. Posting videos or sound recordings online, including on social media sites is forbidden and photos will have to be for personal and domestic purposes only, not for commercial use. Fair and simple enough, but where do you draw the line?

There’s murky, grey water lingering here and it’s not from the River Thames. Say I take a ridiculously funny or just interesting photo at the Games, I’m wearing my Nike T’shirt with the famous tick prominently positioned. I post it on facebook and my 1000 friends see it, they comment on it therefore further exposing the photo to that person’s 1000 friends, another gets tagged in it, expanding its reach to another web of friends, one of their’s comments on it…and so on and so on. It was an innocent post but great (and free) advertisement for Nike and they haven’t put a cent into the Games with Adidas the major sponsor.

Policing this threads a whole other web of problems. Monitoring Facebook sites globally to make sure no one has posted videos or their photos can be used in the wrong way, is a ludicrous task and by LOCOG’s own admission, there’s simply “not much we can do about it”.

The Athletes and officials have to play by the rules too and the pressure is on to make sure they’re wise with their words. According to the IOC Social Media Guidelines, their posts should be in “in a first-person, diary-type format and should not be in the role of a journalist - i.e. they must not report on competition or comment on the activities of other participants or accredited persons”. Again, there’s so much grey area here and there are no prior precedents to go by, though they’ll all be set this Olympics…

An athlete talking about their performance in the wrong way or simply mentioning another competitor, whether it is a friend or rival, has the potential to land them in hot water. The IOC is urging athletes to report the misuse of social media to them using a specific monitoring website too… So it’s safe for athletes to just talk about how they’re feeling and what they had for breakfast… oh hang on… not even that.

They won’t be able to promote any non-Olympic sponsor brands, products or services in their posts. Athletes won’t be able to tweet about their breakfasts or meals in the village if they’re not the brands that have outlaid the big bucks.

Many athletes have their own lucrative sponsors backing them, but they won’t be able to promote those, even ever so casually in their tweets. Usain Bolt for example, won’t be able to twug (tweet and plug) about his Pumas or about drinking a Pepsi, with whom he has lucrative deals – when Coca-Cola and Adidas are the main sponsors and have paid in excess of 100 million pounds for the rights. A blackout period isn’t new, but never has it had to compete with the size and power of today’s social media network.

But bumbling the brands isn’t the competitors only concern but when and how athletes use their twitter accounts. Glittering careers can come crashing down faster than it takes the pinky to move to the shift key and the middle finger to reach for the number 3 to construct a #hashtag from one simple post.

Stephanie Rice sure wishes she had chosen her 140 characters more wisely when tweeting about the Wallabies win in South Africa in 2010, a tweet which cost her the “girl next door” image and a heck load of sponsors.

But this may not be such a bad thing, as some of our athletes get a little too caught up watching their “followers” tally tick over and admittedly need some pulling back on the thumb hockey. The AOC was recently forced to tighten its grip on the athletes’ mobile phones after being shocked to hear competitors were tweeting during a recent Olympic diving test event.

Clearly there’s a time and place to tweet and during a competition isn’t one of them. The potential for distraction and loss of focus for any athlete is massive if they’re accessing their accounts throughout competitions. It also opens up a whole different can of worms when fans can place bets on sports, mid competition too.

Cycling Australia has also put in place strict restrictions, banning athletes mobiles and tablets during training sessions and competitions.

Tweeting, even innocently, can prove a disruptive distraction but a controversial tweet, can do a whole lot more damage. British Olympic swimming legend Sharron Davies has called for a blanket twitter ban for all GB athletes during the two weeks, fearing boredom could lead to an athlete tweeting the wrong thing and overshadowing all the great stories coming out of the Games.

We all saw the potential for this to happen just last week when Olympic swimmer Kenrick Monk posted photos of himself and Nick D’Arcy wielding guns at a gun shop in the US. Whether you agree or not that they were doing something wrong in that post, there’s no doubting it hogged the media spotlight for days, overshadowing many other stories out there. If it wasn’t for Facebook, the photos may never have made it to your newspapers and televisions, much like those taken of the Australian swim team in 2007 at a group bonding session at a Canberra rifle range. The AOC placed a blanket Twitter and Facebook ban on Monk and D’Arcy throughout the London Games, the pair then extended it further yesterday by announcing they’re on a self-imposed social media ban from now until the end of the Games.

But all is not lost and forbidden when it comes to social media at the Olympics. In an effort to combat the problem, LOCOG launched the “Athletes’ Hub” last month. In what could be seen as a “can’t beat them join them’ move, the website integrates Facebook and Twitter to allow fans to follow athletes’ tweets and posts and feel closer to the athlete. Fans will have to log into the site and as an incentive to use the Athletes’ Hub, can earn points for every athlete searched, video downloaded etc, these points can also earn you rewards such as pins, T-shirts etc.

But will it work? How much of a role social media will play in these games for the future of the Olympics’ lucrative sponsorship deals will be tested in those two weeks in July and August…will 140 characters cost careers and contracts? Or will the social media landscape grow faster, higher and stronger than the IOC can control?

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14 comments

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    • TracyH says:

      07:12am | 19/06/12

      Can’t wait to see LOCOG attempting to sue a billion FB users…

    • Craig says:

      07:33am | 19/06/12

      The more organisations seek to control what people do and think, the more they trash their own reputations and revenue streams.

      If the modern Olympics is all about preserving sponsor dollars and enticing traditional media outlets to fork out hundreds of millions for broadcast rights, it has lost its focus as an event that brings together the world in a cooperative and competitive spirit to share the achievements of talented sports people.

      It will not survive as a big budget, commercial glitterfest in the modern age.

      Adapt or die.

    • KH says:

      09:43am | 19/06/12

      The IOC members basically swan around in private jets and expensive hotels and freebies to ‘inspect’ venues and have people suck up to them for their vote.  Once the city has been named as host, I’m not seeing what they do.  I have no idea what they spend all their revenue on - the host city cops the bill for staging the event and does all the organisation of it, and individual countries pay for their own athletes to attend, sponsors even supply all the clothes etc, and individual sporting bodies get all the officials etc.  So what does the IOC do apart from picking the city once every 4 years?  Does anyone know?

    • Traxster says:

      11:00am | 19/06/12

      Right on Craig…..right on !

    • iansand says:

      08:32am | 19/06/12

      Sporting administrators, as they have always done, believe that the athletes are there as support for the administarators’ careers.  They forgot, long ago, that they are there to support the athletes.  This control freak attitude to what athletes are allowed to do is a symptom of that approach.

    • Budz says:

      08:55am | 19/06/12

      Oh my god what a disgrace! And I thought Australia was a nanny state! The Olympics are taking it to a whole new level. I was gonna say it sounds more like a concentration camp but that’s taking things too far.
      Seriously though, just let athletes twiiter and FB all they want. People need to stop being so PC and harden the frick up!

    • PeterB says:

      09:04am | 19/06/12

      The Olympic movement lost any real connection with the Olympic ideals long long ago. It’s just a business venture run by a small coterie of officials who should be tested for ego steroids. Hopefully by trying to enforce this sort of madness they will overextend themselves to the point where the great unwashed will realise just how much they’ve been conned…...

    • LetThemTweet says:

      10:37am | 19/06/12

      I say let them tweet. If there’s one thing the internet will teach the next generation, it’s to not be so sensitive about everything.

    • Du says:

      10:48am | 19/06/12

      When I was young,The Olympiad was a festival of young peoble.Today it is abussines,existing to keep officials in cushy overpaid jobs.Anybody opposing that should be….

    • Tim says:

      11:15am | 19/06/12

      Instead of trying to rein in the unreinable, the Olympics should shed any sport where an Olympic gold medal isn’t the pinnacle achievement. Does anyone really care about Olympic football/tennis/rugby/golf?

    • AdamC says:

      12:59pm | 19/06/12

      That has been my view for some time too, Tim.

      Why not just get rid of those sports that, popular though they may be, are not true ‘Olympic sports’? Personally, I see the Olympics as a short period of time every four years when people become genuinely interested in diving, weightlifting and gymnastics - at least provided there is an Aussie hopeful!

    • Kirsty says:

      11:42am | 19/06/12

      This is a little disappointing.  The Olympics needs a little controversy every now and then to make it more interesting.  The back and forth between the US and Aus swimmers at the Sydney games made it much more memorable.

    • Admiral Ackbar says:

      02:45pm | 19/06/12

      Who the shit has 1000 friends?

    • youdy beaudy says:

      06:13am | 20/06/12

      Well the Olympics has always been held to showcase each countries best of the best in each sport and also builds individual countries international reputations. A lot of patriotism is in it for sure.

      It seems that the IOC have become some type of police over the years. I think that the sports people participating should have more say not just be seen as money makers for the committee. It has just developed into a good business in the modern era. The cost of running such an event every four years can put countries hosting into financial problems. Greece is one we would remember. I wondered whether in holding the Games Greece put itself in the starting position of what has happened to it financially.

      It’s good to see our young sports people winning a Gold or some other medal. For them it is the culmination of their personal effort and training and they do train very hard with long hours in the pool or elsewhere.

      But, how they can control all of this modern computer and phone messaging i don’t know. I think that people including the competitors will do what they want anyway. Not being able to contact others with information on how it is going is a bit Nazi.

      The Olympics has gone a long way away from its original ideals but that is the modern way and when there are millions to be made from sponsorships then the controls that we see go into overkill. Without Athletes giving their time and skills there wouldn’t be a modern Olympics at all. For them i presume winning is more of a personal issue and if they are the best the Olympics is just another venue to show their talents, they could do it anywhere. So are the games outdated.?

      Where in the past the Olympics has held prominence as a sporting event i think that today many people wouldn’t bother tuning in. Too much control will bring stress on to the athletes and may cause problems with their times and abilities and if it keeps on going well they may not even bother with the Olympics in the future. With all the IOC’s gathering in of the money and the restrictions put upon to protect some brand or so i think that eventually it will become an unsupported non event. Athletes should stand up and be counted and show that without their skills then the Olympics could never have happened at all.

 

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